Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia is a must-read for mythology fans. Mbalia draws characters from West African legends (such as Nyama and Anansi) and African-American folk tales (such as John Henry and Brer Rabbit) to create an exciting quest adventure story.
Seventh grader Tristan Strong doesn’t feel like a hero. He feels like a disappointment. He couldn’t save his best friend when they were in a bus accident. Now someone has taken his friend’s journal of stories.
While trying to get it back, he punches a Bottle Tree and accidentally opens a hole in the sky of MidPass. If he wants to get home, he’ll have to help repair the sky, defeat an evil haint, and bring peace to this realm.
Back home in Chicago, Tristan never had any success in the boxing ring, but here he fights with a purpose, taking out wave after wave of fetterlings with his fists. Even better, he learns that he’s an anansesum, a storyteller like his Nana. And storytelling is a true superpower in this world.
If all of that’s not reason enough to read this book, I’ll give you one more: Gum Baby. Out of all the excellent characters in this story, she’s my favorite. Her sass and her sap attacks made me laugh and cheer. Just don’t shush her!
Tom O’Donnell’s Homerooms and Hall Passes has a hilarious premise. Five young adventurers from the realm of Bríandalör meet once a week to play H&H, a role-playing game set in J. A. Dewar Middle School.
Vela the paladin plays Valerie the Overachiever. Devis the thief plays Stinky the Class Clown. Thromdurr the barbarian plays Doug the Nerd. Sorrowshade the gloom elf assassin plays Melissa the Loner. And Albiorix the wizard is the Hall Master.
It’s all fun and games until a cursed jewel sends the five friends to the realm of suburbia for real. There, they’ll have to survive a semester of 8th grade without “blowing it” (failing a class or getting more than three unexcused absences).
That’s easier said than done when they have to do it with no weapons, no poisons, and no magic in a world that doesn’t make sense. For example, in Earth Sciences, they learn that rocks apparently aren’t made by Cragnar, the god of rocks. In English class, they have to write a persuasive essay arguing either that cats are or are not good pets, but it’s unacceptable to say that cats are good because they can see ancient spirits or bad because they might be evil wizards in disguise. And Algebra is a completely baffling subject.
Homerooms and Hall Passes is fast-paced and really, really funny. Larrabee and I both highly recommend it.
I’d heard good things about Maximilian Fly by Angie Sage, but I didn’t expect that it would be my kind of book. It has a person-sized cockroach on the cover after all. Eww.
But I’ve been proved wrong. Maximillian (who is actually a person with cockroach DNA) is a gentle and charming character, and I highly recommend his story to fans of dystopian fiction, unusual narrators, and suspenseful fantasies.
Maximillian Fly is the story of how Maximillian sets out to prove to you and me (the reader) that he’s a good creature by rescuing two children who are being chased by government enforcers. It takes place in the city of Hope, which is trapped under a dome to protect its citizens from the contagion outside and which is run by an oppressive government.
When Maximillian decides to hide the children, his actions have far-reaching consequences for his own quiet life and for all of the people (and roaches) of Hope. After I got over my initial reaction to Maximillian’s carapace, I couldn’t put the book down.
Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble is a delightful fantasy full of family, friendship, magic, and baking.
Eleven-year-old Leonora Logroño is the youngest of five sisters. Her family owns a bakery, Amor y Azucár Pandadería, in Rose Hill, Texas.
Leo wants to help with the preparations for Dia de los Muertos, but her family insists that she wait until she’s fifteen. She sneaks into the bakery to see what she’s missing and learns her family’s secret. Her mother and sisters are brujas!
Not wanting to be left out, she smuggles her family’s old recipe book home in her backpack and starts experimenting with her own baking magic. When she tries to solve her best friend’s problem by baking cookies with a love spell, though, she finds that magic sometimes has unintended consequences.
The magical adventure continues in the next book in the series, Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, and another one is expected next year. Larrabee and I enjoyed the first two and are looking forward to the third book.
Kids who are looking for a haunting read this week should check out Tunnel of Bones, the second book in Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts series.
Twelve-year-old Cassidy almost drowned last year. Ever since then, she’s been able to pull back the Veil that separates the living from the dead and help restless spirits move on. And Jacob, the ghost who saved her life, has become her best friend.
Now Cassidy and Jacob are in Paris. Her parents are filming a new episode of their TV show about haunted cities. When Cassidy goes into the Catacombs under the city, she accidentally awakens a poltergeist. She and her family are in danger, and in order to stop him, she must figure out who he was and how he died.
This book is one that you’ll keep reading long after you should have turned out the lights and gone to sleep. It’s a spooky page-turner!
Listen up, Percy Jackson fans. You’re going to want to put Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun on your wish list. It’s an action-packed quest adventure that draws on the Navajo legend of the Hero Twins.
Seventh grader Nizhoni Begay dreams of being a middle school superstar. But her one special talent is that she can recognize monsters. Unfortunately, no one believes her when she tells them that her dad’s new boss is up to no good.
Then, her dad is kidnapped, and only Nizhoni, her younger brother, and her best friend Davery can rescue him. They’ll have to pass a series of trials to reach the House of the Sun and obtain the weapons they’ll need to defeat the monsters.
Some of my favorite things about this book were:
- Mr. Yazzie, the wise horned toad, who mentors Nizhoni.
- The prophetic poem that Nizhoni receives from the mysterious snack lady in the train station.
- The Navajo mythological figures that appear in the story.
- The fact that Nizhoni, her brother, and Davery have complementary skills.
- The satisfying final battle.
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is January 14, 2020.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee combines Korean mythology, science fiction, and mystery in a terrific adventure story. Larrabee and I both loved it.
Min is a 13-year-old fox spirit living on a poor planet with her mother, aunts, and cousins. When her older brother, a cadet in the Thousand Worlds Space Forces, is accused of deserting his post to search for the fabled Dragon Pearl, Min runs away from home to find him. Her quest takes her across the galaxy toward the Ghost Sector.
Some of the things I liked best about this book are:
- Min’s fox magic. In addition to acute senses of smell and hearing, Min has the ability to shape shift and to use Charm to influence other people’s behavior. Although she’s grown up assuming a human form and hiding her magic at her mother’s insistence, all of her special abilities prove useful in her search for her brother.
- The Thousand Worlds. From Min’s dome house on dusty Jinju to the sleek corridors of the battle cruiser Pale Lightning, the book’s settings drew me into the story.
- Min’s allies. Throughout the story, Min finds friends and allies in unexpected places. I particularly liked the goblin Sujin and the dragon Haneul.
Dragon Pearl is a fast-paced, suspenseful, and immersive read. I recommend it.